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Considering Kyle Shanahan’s time in Atlanta in assessing draft possibilities

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The 49ers need playmakers on offense, and Shanahan’s history could offer some clues about next month’s Draft.

The San Francisco 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to overhaul an organization that has descended to the bottom of the league over the last three years. While Lynch is the general manager and has final say on the 90-man roster, Kyle Shanahan’s previous work as an offensive coordinator means he has significant say on the offensive side of the ball. Even without hearing either man say as much, it seems pretty obvious.

The question then is what Shanahan’s system will mean come draft day. We’ve seen the team added several weapons to the offense through free agency, but in a defense-heavy draft, how much will they improve the offense next month?

MMQB writer Andy Benoit took a look at each of the six new head coaches, and tried to assess draft possibilities based on their respective “core beliefs.” He looked at what each coach did in their last stop, and what it could mean for their current roster, and potential holes. Given Lynch’s lack of front office experience, it is all the more pertinent for Shanahan and the 49ers.

The article is not a deep dive, but it provides some interesting thoughts about Shanahan’s time in Atlanta. Benoit heard from some coaches that they thought his offense in Atlanta this past year was one of the best they’d ever seen. Shanahan used unconventional formations by aligning players in a variety of spots, outside of their traditional roles. According to Benoit, this put defenses in a position where they would reveal early on whether they were using man or zone coverage.

Knowing this would be the case, Shanahan would design for routes on one side of the formation to beat man coverage and routes on the other side to beat zone. Matt Ryan would examine the defense, identify man or zone, and choose which side to work accordingly.

Shanahan had some great receivers in Atlanta, but the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were critical to the unorthodox formations. He does not have quite the versatility in Santa Clara. He’s got a traditional back in Carlos Hyde, but other running backs and the team’s tight ends do not inspire a lot of fear.

Kyle Juszczyk is an adept passing game fullback, but not to the extent that he can split out wide or in the slot. Tight end Vance McDonald could maybe play the slot, but he won’t scare opponents if aligned on an island. Imagine how potent Shanahan would be if he had some mismatch-makers at these positions. Expect the Niners to look for versatility at running back or tight end.

The 49ers invested in Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, and Aldrick Robinson at wide receiver. The team needs some long-term help at the position, but if they elect to wait on it, they’ve got options to jump-start the offense to some degree.

We’ve heard chatter about interest in Christian McCaffrey, but he could end up going in the latter half of the first round. Furthermore, the running back position is a deep group this year. The 49ers re-signed DuJuan Harris this week, but it is a good bet that they take a running back in the middle rounds.

The right kind of tight end could add some versatility to a unit that has Vance McDonald, but not much else. McDonald can be dangerous, but he is incredibly inconsistent. I don’t think we see them drafting O.J. Howard, although that would please some folks. But, it’s a solid year at the tight end position, and while they have a lot of tight ends, they’re just looking for playmakers they can move around. The traditional position listing is relevant, but not a huge deal.

Benoit’s article is a fun one in assessing draft possibilities. Give it a read when you get a minute.